At least 38 migrants were consumed by a fire — reportedly started by some of the migrants in protest — at a government-run immigrant detention facility in Ciudad Juárez, México late night Monday; nearly 30 more were injured. These deaths are the human cost of U.S. immigration policies primarily intended to deter people seeking asylum from ever reaching our borders. Bad policy kills.
I am not sure what else needs to happen so the entire U.S. church wakes up to the realities of the evils entrenched in our immigration system. Honoring the dignity of all people is our calling as Christians; no other entity is tasked with recognizing the image of God in every person. Our Latine brothers and sisters are leading the way, but the whole church should be outraged; we should be demonstrating without ceasing. We should not let people sleep until they see the humanity of every migrant.
If you are having trouble following all the policies that will or could impact immigrant communities, you are in good company; there’s seemingly no end to the ways this nation is trying to hurt immigrants. But one thing is clear: No matter who is in office, Democrats and Republicans alike fail to deliver policies and protections that honor the dignity of immigrant people.
Under former President Barack Obama, the U.S. reached record highs in deportations, disrupting community life and separating families. Under former President Donald Trump, children were ripped off their parents’ arms as they arrived at the southern border; many remain separated.
Now, under President Joe Biden, a proposed rule would make it harder for people facing persecution to apply for asylum; only those who can arrive by plane or apply through a smartphone app will have a chance to obtain one of the very limited number of daily spots. The Biden administration is also considering reviving the use of family detention — a baffling and immoral strategy, especially given how images of families in cages characterized the use of this policy under Trump.
State policies aren’t much better: In Florida, a Senate bill would make it a third-degree felony to knowingly transport an undocumented immigrant; it would also require certain hospitals to collect patients’ immigration status, resulting in an unthinkable health crisis. Meanwhile, Texas led a coalition of eight states seeking to strip current recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, their protection from deportation and work permits; Texas is also considering prohibiting children without lawful immigration status from accessing its public education system. There is nothing that exposes the state of our nation’s soul more than the way we treat children.
I am tired of writing the same thing over and over: Immigrants are people — people made in the image of God with inherent dignity and worth. Immigrants have rights to migrate and to seek protection. Immigrants have a right to seek asylum within our borders, that is U.S. law!
Yet members of Congress continue to speak of migrants as animals and infestations, dehumanizing language that casts immigrants as scapegoats for this nation’s problems. I find myself once again saying: We immigrants are not animals; we are people!
After 18 years working for just immigration policies, I’m tired of fighting to justify our humanity. So let politicians believe what they want to believe; instead of trying to justify our humanity, we must work to uproot — ¡echar fuera! — the entrenched evils of the U.S. immigration system. My Pentecostal roots say this type of wickedness only comes out with prayer and fasting and casting out the very forces of evil that seek to annihilate people, to kill, steal, and destroy. ¡Fuera! Bad policies kill, but the way of God revives. We will continue to fight until we see others respect what is ours, the image of God in us, our joy and ganas de vivir. And yet, we need support. We need policies that will give migrants a chance at life — and a dignified life at that.
We’ve got work to do. Our immigration system is bound up in all the old ways of this nation: colonialism; Indigenous extermination; the enslavement and lynching of Black people; disregard for the care of creation; dehumanization and fear of immigrants. These old ways must die and, in their place, new ways must be born: a sense that we are bound together so that your wellbeing is my wellbeing; recognition that every person is made in the image of God; a care for the land as our common home; and a commitment to distribute the earth’s abundant resources equitably.
Can we commit to building and fighting for life-giving systems and rejecting death-making ones? Could we do this in such a way that we are willing to die to our privilege and our old ways of living so that all may live well? This is my prayer:
May the dominant Western ways of viewing migration die. May we rid ourselves of colonial logic that raped and exterminated native people, forced them to adopt new cultures, extracted their resources, and condemned their medicine as evil. ¡Fuera!
We rebuke the dominant Western ways that kidnapped African people, illegally transported them treating them as merchandise, and enslaved them in a new land that consumed their bodies. ¡Fuera!
We condemn the dominant Western way that seeks to own, is voracious in consumption, and is rampant in its pursuit of material wealth and social status at the expense of migrant labor forces including children. ¡Fuera!
We pray for a restored common human family in harmony with the rest of creation that recognizes our wellbeing is bound to one another and the earth. Lord, hear our prayer.
We pray for a framework that recognizes each person is inherently worthy of dignity and respect and centers life. Lord, hear our prayer.
We pray for an insatiable appetite for justice, always recognizing your abundant provision so that we may feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and afford everyone a dignified life. Lord, hear our prayer.